Reading(s): John 20: 19-31. This sermon was given by Sally Kerson at St. Mark & All Saints.
The Sunday after Easter is known as Low Sunday, being a contrast from the high festival and celebration of Easter, therefore congregations are usually very reduced today. It is also the time when Vicars recuperate after a busy time with Holy Week and Easter Services and usually the Curate or in this case LLM preaches the sermon. Therefore, over the last 31 years I have preached on today’s gospel many times especially as it is one which never changes in the three-year lectionary cycle. Although saying that it is a true gem of a reading and never ceases to bring something to light each time I prepare for this Sunday. And as we shouldn’t celebrate Easter Sunday without Good Friday, in my opinion Easter Sunday is not complete without the 2nd Sunday of Easter.
Decades ago, when I was attending some diocesan training day, we were asked which apostle we identified with most and then we were paired off and had to talk to the person we were with and tell them who was the apostle we had chosen and why, in turn they explained which apostle they had chosen and why. I can’t remember exactly what I said but I chose Thomas because of the unfortunate label which he has been given down the centuries of being known as ‘doubting Thomas’ and which is often used when someone is sceptical about something.
As you heard in the reading Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared the first time to the disciples in the upper room where they were locked away for fear, fear of being tortured and killed since they had seen their master die such a cruel death. Thomas therefore did not witness the risen Christ when he first appeared to that frightened huddle of disciples. We have no idea where he was, he could for all we know be the person going out to get provisions, but he missed the event and like us when we miss a momentous occasion because we are not in the right place at the right time, he was naturally rather upset. He also did not quite believe what the others told him, after all their version of events was a bit incredulous. How could Jesus appear to them when the doors were locked and why did he appear to them?
Then a week later Jesus appears for the second time to his disciples, but this time Thomas is in the room. Jesus knew that Thomas was not quite believing what the others had said and offers him the chance to touch the place where the nails were in his hands and feel where the lance pierced his side. Jesus is happy to show him how real he is. This is enough for Thomas, we don’t even know if he takes Jesus up on the offer to put his finger in his wounds, he simply makes the first full profession of faith and says, ‘my Lord and my God’. It really is a shame that Thomas' natural, well-founded doubt overshadows part of this story. But then I think it is always good to talk about doubt, because it is very much part of our lives and our society especially currently when so many people are doubting how the government is being run. There are many reasons for this, the latest being the migrate issue (although the Archbishop of Canterbury did that justice in his Easter sermon) and the way the government seem to have side tracked lockdown rules. All these things have not helped their creditability recently and doubt has reared its ugly head and people are uneasy. With doubt can also come fear and uncertainty for the future, which if not stemmed can eat away and make things worse for everyone, which we are seeing at the present.
We can also experience doubt in our personal lives, doubt in our own abilities and even doubt and mistrust especially in relationships. Doubt can be a crushing reality when we lack people around us to offer support, by that I mean when we do not work together helping each other through doubt and fear. The beauty of the Church is that we can face our questions and struggles together and look to one another and to God for love, compassion, and hope. This is very important as we move into another stage of our Christian journey in this benefice especially after covid. We have Vanessa as our new Vicar and it is time to move forward to share new adventures together, being hopeful and not doubtful that we will not have the energy or resources to achieve what we set out to do. But we do need to work together as a community of believers. Thomas wanted to believe, above all else, he just could not quite get there without more help. Thomas was one of the most steadfast and loyal apostles among the twelve. What is so remarkable about Thomas isn’t his doubting, but his open and honest humanity.
But let us go back to the first words Jesus says to the disciples when he appears to them. What is the first thing Jesus says to the disciples? Does he say, ‘Where were you?’ or ‘You abandoned me?’ No. He says, astonishingly, ‘peace be with you’. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word peace? For many it simply means the end of hostilities. Others think first of an inner sense of calm and well-being. Whatever our first thought, most of us see it as something that is in short supply in our world today, even as so many people long for it.
Peace is one of the most important words in the Bible it means far more than the absence of conflict or a feeling of calm, for us, peace is an all-encompassing word that speaks to God’s design for and rule over all of creation. Then John gives us what I think must be one of the greatest understatements in scripture, he writes: ‘then they were glad when they saw the Lord’. Of course, there is the absolute delight in seeing Jesus risen from the dead, but I think the rejoicing happens partly because he is saying ‘peace be with you’. He says ‘peace be with you’ again. I am with you; you are not alone, and your sins are forgiven.
Then he does something else astonishing, he breathes on them, he gives them the power of the holy spirit and says, ‘I send you’. This is a group of frightened men hiding in a locked room who don’t even understand what has happened to Jesus. In that state, he tells them that he is sending them. There is no sense that they need to pass a test first before they get sent out: they’re ready now. Jesus says, ‘as the father has sent me so I send you’. They have a mission, like we have a mission not just to stay in one place and stay frightened and doubtful but to go out into the world.
So many times, we hear the words at the end of the service ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ and the reply is ‘In the name of Christ’. We should take that peace out of this building and in the name of Christ we are called to love and serve the world, not just today but every single day.
Peace be with you.
Receive the warm breath of Christ.
Let the Spirit of God breathe, in all of us.
Ask your questions. Be kind to each other. Love the world.
In Resurrection, God says to us, “I’m still here.” Amen